Ointment bases recognized for use as vehicles fall into four general classes: the hydrocarbon bases, the absorption bases, the water-removable bases, and the water-soluble bases. Each therapeutic ointment possesses as its base a representative of one of these four general classes.
Such bases are oil-in-water emulsions, e.g., Hydrophilic Ointment, and are more correctly called creams. (See Creams.) They are also described as water-washable, since they may be readily washed from the skin or clothing with water, an attribute that makes them more acceptable for cosmetic reasons. Some medicaments may be more effective in these bases than in hydrocarbon bases. Other advantages of the water-removable bases are that they may be diluted with water and that they favor the absorption of serous discharges in dermatological conditions.
This group of so-called greaseless ointment bases comprises water-soluble constituents. Polyethylene Glycol Ointment is the only Pharmacopeial preparation in this group. Bases of this type offer many of the advantages of the water-removable bases and, in addition, contain no water-insoluble substances such as petrolatum, anhydrous lanolin, or waxes. They are more correctly called Gels. (See Gels.)
Choice of Base
The choice of an ointment base depends upon many factors, such as the action desired, the nature of the medicament to be incorporated and its bioavailability and stability, and the requisite shelf-life of the finished product. In some cases, it is necessary to use a base that is less than ideal in order to achieve the stability required. Drugs that hydrolyze rapidly, for example, are more stable in hydrocarbon bases than in bases containing water, even though they may be more effective in the latter.